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March 8, 2001

 

Oleksandr Pavliuk, John Kolasky Memorial Fellow, Analyzes Ukraine's Relations with the West in 35th Annual Shevchenko Lecture

When Ukraine became an independent state in 1991, it was believed by some that the young country would quickly manage to shed the negative political and economic legacies of Soviet rule and begin to integrate more closely with the West, especially with the European Union (EU). Hopes were especially high among diaspora Ukrainians living in the West. At the same time, it was anticipated that Western countries would propose and implement consistent policies to encourage such developments. Events of the past ten years have shown, however, that Ukraine has largely failed to reorganize its economy and political system, while Western countries, especially those of the EU, have not developed comprehensive and steadfast policies to encourage Ukraine's eventual integration into European economic, political and security structures. These were some of the main conclusions reached by Dr. Oleksandr Pavliuk, director of the Kyiv centre of the EastWest Institute, who delivered this year's Shevchenko lecture, "A Challenging Decade: Ukraine and the West, 1991-2001," on March 8 at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. The annual Shevchenko Lecture is sponsored by the Ukrainian Professional and Business Club of Edmonton and organized by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS).

 

Dr. Pavliuk began his talk by commenting on the current political situation in Ukraine, which he characterized as "the most serious political crisis since independence." The crisis, he noted, not only highlights the incomplete and flawed nature of Ukraine's transition, but also "the fragility of its geopolitical standing" and foreign policy orientations, which also raises serious questions about its future relations with the West. The crisis has already led to a warming of relations with Russia, the growth of Russian influence in Ukraine, and the weakening of Ukraine's Western orientation. Both Ukraine and the West need to review their policies if they are to develop a closer relationship.

The body of the talk, as the title suggest, was a summary and analysis of relations between the West and Ukraine over the last ten years. In his analysis, Dr. Pavliuk divided the decade into four distinctive periods that reflect the evolution of Western attitudes and policies toward Ukraine.

The first, from 1991 to 1993, Oleksandr Pavliuk characterized as a period of neglect. The West's attention was focused largely on Russia, while Ukraine was viewed with skepticism and suspicion, in part because of Kyiv's reluctance to part with its nuclear weapons. Relations in this period did not advance much beyond diplomatic recognition. Growing instability in Russia, however, and its shift to a more aggressive foreign policy, led to a reassessment of the Western attitudes toward Ukraine.

There followed what Dr. Pavliuk described as the period of support, from 1995-1997, which was characterized by Ukraine's increasing cooperation with the West. This included both political and economic support. Cooperation began with the IMF and other international financial institutions and foreign relations with the West developed favourably. Ukraine acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was of great concern to the West. It also was the first CIS country to sign a NATO Partnership for Peace agreement. In July 1997, a Charter on Distinctive Partnership with NATO was agreed to, which seemed to anchor Ukraine's geopolitical position in the West. Ukraine openly declared its goal as integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures, which implied EU and NATO membership. Western politicians, for their part, paid lip service to Ukraine's "geostrategic importance." During this period Ukraine also achieved macroeconomic stabilization, introduced a new currency, and adopted a democratic constitution.

The years of support and cooperation were followed in 1998-99 by a period of Western frustration. At the end of 1997 and in early 1998, Western optimism as to Ukraine's commitment to economic reform began to fade. The Lazarenko (1996-97) and Pustovoitenko (1997-99) governments were corrupt and largely anti-reform, which served the economic interests of Ukraine's increasingly powerful nomenklatura-based and oligarchic clans and groups. Ukraine was subjected to increasing western criticism and itself became frustrated with the West, especially with the EU, which would not even consider Ukraine for membership.

The fourth period of Ukraine's relations with the West may be characterized, according to Pavliuk, as the beginning of Western disengagement. Ironically, following Leonid Kuchma's re-election as president in 1999, the momentum for reform in Ukraine seemed strong. The government of Viktor Yushchenko succeeded in implementing some badly needed reforms, such as the partial restructuring the energy sector. Positive GDP growth occurred for the first time since independence, while wage and pension arrears were eliminated or greatly reduced. Yet resistance to reform remained strong in the state bureaucracy, oligarchic clans and corporate groups. Kuchma and the leaders of the oligarchy were also becoming critical of Yushchenko, as reforms began to curtail shady business practices. Moreover, authoritarian tendencies within the Kuchma presidency, already evident in the prelude to the 1998 parliamentary elections, and especially during the 1999 presidential elections, continued to grow. Ukraine's chronic energy dependency on and indebtedness to Russia, and the latter's more assertive stance toward Ukraine under Putin, further complicated matters.

Western responses to Ukraine's growing problems in this last period were inadequate, said Dr. Pavliuk. Although assistance was promised to the Yushchenko government, Ukraine was essentially left alone to deal with its problems. "The lack of trust in Ukraine and a good portion of skepticism that had accumulated in Western capitals in previous years hit hardest the government that deserved it least and at the most inappropriate time," he concluded. Ukraine was deprived of IMF assistance for more than a year and the EU remained noncommital as to Ukraine's integration. Oleksandr Pavliuk pointed out that the withdrawal of IMF support not only deprived the West of serious influence over Ukraine's leaders, but also made it more difficult for Ukraine to resist pressure to give Russian companies state assets in return for debt relief. As a result, Ukraine's Western orientation weakened, as did the standing of its reform-minded leaders. The dismissal of Ukraine's pro-Western foreign minister, Borys Tarasiuk, in September 2000 was indicative of Ukraine's cooling relations with the West and its more pro-Russian orientation.

In analyzing the question what went wrong with the Ukraine-West relationship, Dr. Pavliuk indicated Ukraine's inability to reform itself as the main cause. He also noted the West's ambivalence and incoherent policies toward Ukraine as a contributing factor.

In his closing remarks, Oleksandr Pavliuk focused on Ukraine's current crisis and posited that it "might become a decisive moment in Ukraine's independent history." Although the Gongadze-Kuchmagate crisis has resulted in negative coverage in the world media, criticism from the West, and increasing Russian influence, the crisis has presented Ukraine with an opportunity to bring about positive change. In addition, Pavliuk noted, the crisis has raised concern in the West about Ukraine's future, and this could lead, he speculated, to the West's re-engagement with and support for Ukraine.

In the short term, Ukraine's relations with the West depend on the type of Ukraine that emerges from the current political crisis. The West, Pavliuk posited, could help resolve the crisis in Ukraine's favour and in its own interests if it comes up "with bold decisions and a clear-cut short-term strategy vis-a-vis Ukraine" to facilitate democratic change without pushing Ukraine further toward Russia. Unfortunately, Pavliuk noted, the West does not seem to have such a strategy.

Dr. Pavliuk's insightful and well-organized presentation was followed by a lively question-and-answer session moderated by the CIUS director, Dr. Zenon Kohut. Lisa McDonald, co-president of the Ukrainian Professional and Business Club of Edmonton, closed the evening session and thanked Dr. Pavliuk for his presentation on behalf of the club.

The Shevchenko lecture was not the only presentation given by Dr. Pavliuk in Edmonton. Earlier that week, he gave a CIUS-sponsored lecture on "Ukraine's Search for Regional Security," which focused on Ukraine's role in the GUUAM, the regional security structure. GUUAM consists of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. Following his stay in Edmonton, Dr. Pavliuk left for Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, where he spoke before audiences gathered to commemorate the bard of Ukraine, Taras Shevchenko.

 

Dr. Pavliuk is an historian and expert on Ukraine's regional and European security issues. His publications include the books Ukraine's Struggle for Independence and US Policy, 1917-23 (Borot'ba Ukrainy za nezalezhnist' i polityka SshA, 1996), and Building Security in the New States of Eurasia. Subregional Cooperation of the Former Soviet States (2000), and more than 40 articles, including essays published in Foreign Affairs and Security Dialogue. In Ukraine, Dr. Pavliuk has taught at the University of the Kyiv Mohyla Academy and, since 1997, has been the director of the Kyiv Centre of the EastWest Institute, which is based in New York.

Oleksandr Pavliuk is the recipient of the 2000/2001 John Kolasky Memorial Fellowship, awarded annulally by CIUS. He took up his fellowship in Toronto in the fall of 2000. Since then he has completed a chapter, "The Diplomacy of Ukraine's Independent Governments, 1917-23, " for a book on the diplomatic history of Ukraine (to be published by the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine for the tenth anniversary of Ukraine's independence). Dr. Pavliuk is currently writing a study of the international aspects of the Ukrainian revolution of 1917-20. He is also working on several articles on Ukraine's relations with the West, including the policies of the United States and the European Union toward Ukraine since independence.


 

 

 

 

 

 

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